Shuttle Atlantis still on track

by Chris Bergin

NASA and United Space Alliance workers are behind schedule in preparing Shuttle Atlantis for Sunday’s launch, and are currently stood down due to storms in the local area in Florida.

However, due to the early start in the launch countdown, processing at the pad is set to catch up in time to proceed with Atlantis scheduled launch.

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Storms in the area have been a concern, not only for the current requirements of preparing Atlantis, but also in regards to the weather constraints surrounding the final countdown on Sunday. It is expected that the weather will be classed as ‘Red’ during the count – hopefully clearing in time for the afternoon lift-off.

The first assembly flight for four years – installing the P3/P4 truss into the International Space Station’s configuration – will require some good fortune from the weather for an on-time launch, although that remains a favourable scenario, with current constraints classed at 40 percent ‘No Go’ for Sunday afternoon.

Despite the weather hampering the final preparations at the launch pad, Launch Director Mike Leinbach insisted that the launch countdown has flexibility to cope.

‘We picked up the count on Thursday around noon time, which represented a six hour earlier start than we had originally planned,’ said Leinbach. ‘We did that to beat the afternoon weather that we’re experiencing.

‘What we had hoped to do was to get into our fuel cell reactant loading onboard the ship on Friday morning before the storms – and we were able to get the LOX on board before the weather hit.’

With the weather expected to calm down by late evening Florida time, Shuttle workers will continue with fuel cell loading, as they move towards Saturday evening’s RSS (Rotating Service Structure) rollback, ahead of propellant loading on the External Tank.

‘We’re in a stand-down mode right now at the launch pad – but we’ll load the LH2 into the fuel cells on Friday night, once the storms and lightning clear,’ added Leinbach. ‘Because we started the countdown early, we’ll come out of fuel cell loading tonight about right on time.’

Also noted by Leinbach was the lightning strike that stuck one of the launch pad’s cable wires during today’s storms. The strike didn’t harm the orbiter, and the protection system at the pad complex did its job.

‘The countdown is going well, apart from a couple of minor issues,’ he noted. ‘We did have a lightning strike to the pad and we’re carrying out all out tests and procedures, but right now we see no problems with the vehicle.’

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